Thursday, 14 November 2019

CAUTIONARY TALE ALERT BY FORMER HOUSING BOSS


Riverside
takeover: a
warning to all

A stinging attack has been launched against the housing organisation behind the fat -cat salary row at Workington.

Mr Adrian Waite a former Workington housing boss warns of the dangers of a new agreement for tenants in the town  which is planned by  Riverside Housing Association of Liverpool,  a giant  organisation which owns 56,000 homes nationwide.

Housing organisations and tenants in other parts of the country should take note, says Mr Waite  head of  Appleby-based  AWICS, a management consultancy and training company.

The warning comes a year after Riverside took over the much smaller Impact Housing Association which is based in Workington and has 2,770  homes. Mr Waite was chairman of Impact for four years prior to the takeover which he criticised  at the time.

Now he has renewed his attack.

He writes in his blog:

“ Riverside and Impact have now decided  to make a ‘transfer of engagements’. This would mean that all Impact’s operations, including their housing stock, would move to Riverside and they would become the landlord.

“Impact was always more than `just a housing association’ and provided a wide range of other services including a community centre at Salterbeck in Workington; foyers in Kendal, Penrith and Whitehaven; a furniture service; and a domestic violence service.

“This approach is not consistent with Riverside’s business model so I also raised concerns about whether these services would continue to be provided. The response from Riverside’s representatives was rather vague. I would not be surprised if we see some services closed.

“You may be thinking that I am just having a moan.

” However, I think that this may be a cautionary tale for other housing associations and their tenants and that the Regulator of Social Housing should consider taking a different approach to regulation to ensure greater transparency and accountability especially when providers are downgraded or when mergers or takeovers are being considered.”

Mr Waite recalls that he was a member of the board of Impact  from 2009 to 2015 and was Chair from 2011 to 2015.   

He goes on:

“Throughout that time, Impact maintained a  top rating with the Regulator. However, in 2017, Impact was downgraded to a non-compliant and the Board proposed a ‘merger’ with the Riverside Group that could more accurately be described as a ‘takeover’.

“As a shareholding member of Impact, I was shocked at the way the board behaved, mainly because of:
  • Their mismanagement of Impact that led to the downgrade.
  • Their decision to bring forward the 2017 AGM to before the Regulator announced the downgrade so that they could tell members that Impact’s finances were ‘strong and stable’ contrary to the conclusions of the Regulator.
  • The agreement that they reached with Riverside failed to protect Impact’s values, services or tenants; and was supported by misleading information. It was also made without enough engagement with shareholding members or tenants.

“AT the Impact AGM in 2017  members were told the finances were 'strong and stable'. The following week the Regulator downgraded the association's rating for financial viability from the top  rating to a non-compliant  rating.

“I opposed the ‘takeover’ at the 2018 AGM, but it was approved.

“Interestingly enough, only a year after the ‘takeover’, everyone who was a member of the board of Impact prior to the downgrading has been replaced. Impact also has a new finance director.

“Both Riverside and the Impact board made great play at the time of the ‘takeover’ about how Impact would continue to act independently within the Riverside Group.

“Tenants were even told in writing that their landlord would not change. In view of Riverside’s highly centralised business model, I questioned this at the time.

“I asked whether Riverside planned to do with Impact what they had previously done with the Carlisle Housing Association – namely wind them up and integrate their homes and operations into the parent housing association.

 “I was assured by representatives of Riverside at the highest level that this would not happen.

“However, Riverside and Impact have now decided – only a year after the ‘takeover’ - to make a ‘transfer of engagements’. This would mean that all Impact’s operations, including their housing stock, would move to Riverside and they would become the landlord.”

What does Impact say?

In a letter to tenants earlier this month Impact said:

“As you will recall, Impact became a subsidiary of The Riverside Group in August 2018 following consultation with you and a positive vote from our shareholders.

“Joining Riverside has brought exciting changes to our operations across Cumbria. The move has enabled us to begin work on a multi-million pound programme to improve existing homes and to build new ones.

“As explained during our consultation with you in 2018, the plan was for Impact to initially become a subsidiary of Riverside with a view to explore further integration options towards the end of 2020.
“However, our financial position is not strong enough for us to continue as a stand alone subsidiary with the ability to deliver the commitments that both Impact and Riverside made during the consultation in 2018.
“We need to take action now to ensure that services and commitments to customers are not disrupted and to protect our staff.

 “The Impact Board has looked at a number of options and has agreed a proposal to begin integration into Riverside sooner than planned through a ‘transfer of engagements’. 
“This would mean that all our operations, including our housing stock, would move to Riverside and they would become your landlord.

"We believe this is the best option for you, our staff and the wider community. It would mean that:You can continue to live in the same home with services provided locally by the teams you already know.•
“Your tenancy / lease agreement will stay the same only the name of your landlord will change to The Riverside Group Limited. Your rights whether you are a tenant, shared owner or a leaseholder will be protected.
“Riverside will continueto deliver the pledges it made when Impact joined the Group, including the £25million programme to improve homes across Cumbria.
“We would keep the Impact Housing name as a separate brand within the Riverside Group. The current Impact Board will becomea sub-committee to the Riverside Group Board and will continue to act in the best interests of Impact customers.
“Rents are set to go up in April 2020 and this will happen right across the social housing sector. This means that your rent would still increase if you remained with Impact. A transfer to Riverside will have no effect on how much you pay for your home (see the enclosed question and answer document for more information).

“We are proposing that the Transfer of Engagements happens on or before 31 March 2020. Our shareholders will vote on the Board’s proposal in early 2020. We have informed the Government’s Regulator of Social Housing and they support our plans”.

 Last week there was much criticism of Riverside after the housing press  revealed that  Ms Carol Matthews, Chief Executive Officer  has won a  20 per cent mouth-watering salary  rise to £234, 563.
A spokesman for Carlisle Tenants` and Residents` Federation which publishes this blog said: 

No one is better qualified than Mr Waite to criticise Riverside and its authoritarian ways.“He is a respected professional housing and local government consultant and additionally  had several years of experience working on the Impact governing board. .
“Many of his criticisms  have also been levelled  by the Federation during the years of campaigning against Riverside`s bossiness and gross inefficiency in Carlisle since it took over the city council houses in 2002. Riverside is accountable to no-one but itself
“His warning of the dangers ahead should not be ignored.”

Monday, 4 November 2019

OUTRAGE AT FAT CAT 20 PER CENT RISE


Workington Man and `envious` Boris? 
'Workington man'
The Cumbria town of  Workington that has hit the national headlines by giving its name to  a crucial swing voter  has been making news for another reason.

The housing press  reveals that  the boss of the town`s  housing association has won a  mouth-watering salary  of nearly a quarter of a million pounds.

The name Workington Man is claimed  to be the key to success of the Tories at the polls next month- the name came from a think tank called Onward which identified him as an older white male from the north of England.

But  what exactly Workington Man  made of that gigantic salary increase-   up more than 20 per cent on the year and fifty per cent more than Boris`s pay- is not known.We can only guess.  

The massive rise to £234,563  will take a lot of explaining say critics.

The rise has been won by Ms Carol Matthews chief executive of  the giant Riverside Housing Association which led a controversial takeover of the much smaller Workington-based Impact Housing Association almost exactly a year ago.   

Takeover time: Ms Matthews(left) and former Impact chairman, Mark Costello

That takeover came about  after the social housing regulator downgraded Impact as not fit for purpose because of its failings in governance and viability.

Impact was accused of secrecy, spin, lack of transparency and failure to properly consult tenants.A former Impact chairman Mr Adrian Waite, a leading  local government management consultant made the criticisms in  letter to the then community secretary Mr Sajid Javid.  

One year on and critics say that Ms Matthews` mouth-watering salary has also not been properly explained. Liverpool-based Riverside which has 56,000  homes nationwide did make a statement about the salary to  the social housing magazine Inside Housing which has just completed a survey of 156 housing association`s chief executives.

The survey revealed that Ms Matthews`  near quarter million pay rise was the third highest of the 156 and the average pay rise of the 156 was £174,896.                                                                                                  
The Riverside statement said:“Ms Matthews’ salary was increased in January 2019 as a result of changes to the organisation’s senior leadership team and to bring it closer in line with market rates for comparable roles in the sector.

“Carol is a highly respected leader, responsible for a large, complex national housing and care business with an annual turnover of £354 million.

“She personally chose to be paid less than her predecessor when she joined Riverside as chief executive in February 2012 and since then her salary has remained, and still remains, one of the lowest in the sector compared to the leaders of similar sized housing providers.”

 This is not the first time that Riverside has been criticised for the fat cat salaries paid to its bosses says Carlisle Tenants` and Residents` Federation,  which for many years has campaigned to hold Riverside to account. The Federation publishes this blog.

A spokesman for the Federation said today: “Not many years ago we  and others drew attention to these outrageous Riverside salaries. So it is  not surprising that Riverside now praises Ms Matthews for chosing to work for a reduced salary.

 “ Her predecessors were not so restrained and  because of that they came in for a lot of criticism.

“Riverside may now think that  Ms Matthews`salary -a 20 per cent pay rise to nearly a quarter of million pounds a year - is low. 

"Workington Man would say that`s crazy!

"Boris must be very envious!”

Carlisle Tenants` and Residents` Federation publishes this blog. Information about the Federation is available on 01228 5222

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

`ABANDONED ` CARLISLE REJECTS COUNCIL HOUSE BUILDING


 

Star city

fails as new housing surges

The city of Carlisle which once led the country in building  council houses is now falling very much behind as councils elsewhere surge ahead in building these homes.

Hopefully, things are not as bad as they seem and new ways of getting council house building going again in the city are being planned by Labour members of the Tory-controlled council.

Councillor Lisa Brown (PenPic)
COUN. LISA BROWN...spurred on

Leading the way is Denton Holme and Morton South councillor Ruth Alcroft  who is also prospective Labour parliamentary candidate for the city. She is working with her Denton Holme councillor colleague, Lisa Brown.


The two are spurred on by the  increased number of people homeless in the city and by the continued failures and gross inefficiencies of the city`s biggest landlord, Riverside Housing Association which took over the city`s  6,000 council houses 17 years ago.


Recently Riverside closed its Carlisle offices and  was accused of abandoning the city. Not so many years ago, such a situation would have been unthinkable… Carlisle  between the wars led the country in the number of council houses built, proportionate to the population.


Ruth recently tried to get a motion passed by the council calling on the council to start building again.


She told the council:  “Our country desperately needs new council houses to be built in great numbers. Our country needs council houses to be built to better standards so our housing stock will better stand the test of time”


The council rejected the motion after Councillor Liz Mallinson, a senior Tory councillor said she remembered the days of council housing under a Labour government.”The housing stock was sitting empty and in a state of disrepair.”


Despite  such negative and backward-looking views, Ruth is undeterred in her determination and plans further efforts jointly with Lisa.


Image result for Esther Mcvey
ESTHER MCVEY.. crack team.

The two councillors are very much aware of the big efforts  in other parts of the country to get councils building again. Councils are set to quadruple their housebuilding over the next five years as they seek to deliver 80,000 homes according to an investigation by the social housing magazine, Inside Housing.


That figure represents a huge surge in the activities of council housing companies and follows a very significant decision a year ago by the then  prime minister Theresa May to abolish the councils` housing revenue account cap which placed a limit on the amount councils were able to borrow to invest in housing.


Today it is revealed that Esther McVey, the housing minister is to send a crack team of specialists – planners, designers and ecologists-across the country to help councils struggling to get regeneration and housing schemes approved.

Carlisle Tenants` and Residents` Federation publishes this blog. Information about the Federation is available on 01228 52227

Friday, 27 September 2019

LABOUR PLAN TO` NATIONALISE `HOUSING ASSOCIATIONS


Bossyboots Riverside
`will  get its 
comeuppance`
Image result for comeuppance picture 
Britain`s bossy housing associations will be brought into line if Labour wins the next election. This bossiness and  its twin abuse, gross inefficiency will be ended as housing associations are taken over and “nationalised.”

A motion agreed at  this week`s Labour  conference at Brighton  commits the party  to giving local councils the powers and resources to take housing associations under direct council control.

The news will be welcome  by many tenants of  the Liverpool-based Riverside Housing Association, one of the bossiest and most inefficient  in the country- demonstrated many times in  the 18 years it has run Carlisle` 6,000 former council houses and flats.

The news is also welcomed  by Carlisle Tenants` and Residents` Federation which during those 18 years has campaigned  vigorously against Riverside`s abuses. The Federation wants Riverside to be held to account by its tenants and  the housing association regulator.
Image result for GARETH ELLIS cARLISLE PICTURE
GARETH ELLIS...tenants abandoned

But  Riverside is accountable to no one-   no one but itself.

The story of much of that Federation campaigning is told in the  many posts on this blog which  the Federation publishes.

A Federation spokesman said today: We have tried over the years to get MPs, local authorities and others  to hold Riverside to account. But we have found that to be an impossible task because it seems that no one  person or organisation has the power to do that.”

News that local authorities may take over housing associations will also be welcome by the Carlisle City Council which over the years has had to deal with hundreds of complaints about Riverside  but has been frustrated in being unable to help.

Image result for RUTH ALCROFT PICTURE
RUTH ALCROFT..."build council houses."

 Earlier this year, Riverside was accused of abandoning  its 6,000 Carlisle tenants and leaseholders through the closure  of its city offices which are now on the market to let.

County and city councillor Gareth Ellis branded the  associaton an “ absentee landlord” and declared the closure to be” a sad deterioration for residents.”

Earlier this month the city council was urged to go it alone and start building its own homes in an opposition motion by  Labour councillor Ruth Alcroft. The motion was defeated but Councillor Alcroft said today:"The fight goes on"    
  Carlisle Tenants` and Residents` Federation publishes this blog. Information about the Federation is available on 01228 52227